Three Prisons Deliver for North Carolina

An innovative delivery method and financing methodology allowed three identical 1,000-cell close-security prisons to be built for the North Carolina Department of Correction in 27 months with a very low change order rate. The unique financing combined with the project’s size serves to make these three North Carolina prisons a model not only for the state but also for other correction departments across America.


North Carolina Needed Beds

When the Tar Heel State could not fund new prison construction using a traditional "pay-as-you-go" method they had to resort to a more innovative approach through new legislation, out of which came a hybrid financing and delivery system that allowed for something North Carolina had never done before in corrections: have the private sector finance and build the facilities and then buy them using a lease-purchase financing strategy once they were inspected and complete.


Scotland Correctional Institution
Lanesboro Correctional Institution
Alexander Correctional Institution

Size: 409,600-square-feet per prison
Total Project Cost: $223.8 million
Collaborative Design Entity: Little Diversified Architectural Consulting Inc. (Contract Architect); O’Brien Atkins Associates, PA; Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce Architects, PA
Design Consultant: Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, PC
General Contractor: Centex Rooney Construction Corp.
Detention Equipment Contractor: ESI
Electronic Security Design Consultant: Latta Technical Services
Food Service and Laundry Design: Food Design Associates
Site and Civil Engineer: Hobbs, Uphurch & Associates, PA
Detention Equipment & Security Hardware: Erbschloe Consulting Services Inc.

The first of the three facilities was Scotland Correctional Institution in Laurinburg. It took 21 months to complete and accepted its first inmates in September 2003. The Lanesboro Correctional Institution in Anson County followed three months later. Then the third prison, Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville, was completed January 12.

As the third 1,000-cell close-custody prison was completed, there was a backlog of hundreds of adjudicated inmates waiting in jails for a bed to open up within the state Department of Correction.

This is the North Carolina 1,000-cell close-security prototype. The segregation buildings are the two diamonds in the middle of the diagram. The dotted area (in the upper right) is perfectly sized to hold a future regional medical facility or another two general population buildings exactly like the two buildings on left of the circular road. There is also room for expansion out along the fields to the far left.

The trio of 1,000-cell prisons carries a $223 million price tag. Each prison has 864 general housing cells, divided among three buildings; 128 segregation-housing beds, across two buildings; and eight medical beds.

Each facility is 409,600 square feet, single-cell, close-custody. Everything is one level except the three general population buildings, which have two floors arranged in a star pattern. Within each of the prisons, which are identical in design, layout, and equipment and just site adapted at three different locations, are 26 dayrooms; 11 control rooms; a central energy plant; and recreation facilities.

"We didn’t get into any of these [mirror reverse] type arrangements," said Architect Jim Metze with Little Diversified Architectural Consulting Inc. "The floor is the same in each of the facilities so that a person could be transferred from one facility to the other and know exactly where things are and how they work."

The design itself did not dictate the use of precast, it could have been built with traditional construction methods, however, the only thing that was considered by all of the bidders was precast, according to the DOC.

A view into one of the general population pods. Stacked above this is pod is another identical pod and control room. The elevated control room is built in a 90-degree frame such that an officer can view three, 48-cell pods. Each of the prisons utilizes indirect supervision, often called podular indirect, where an officer observes each of the three pods from a secure control room.

"As it turned out there were a lot of advantages to precast in terms of time and cost," said Architect Metze.

Operations and Maintenance

Almost from the very beginning the North Carolina Department of Correction knew it wanted to use a prototypical design approach.

"We saw advantages operationally because it gave us consistent facilities, essentially you only had to write one set of standard operating procedures that could then be replicated very easily at each of the three facilities as they are built and brought on line," said William Stovall PE, director of engineering, who has been with the state DOC for 21 years.

"It facilitates your training of the staff because they are all training on a comparable facility. It makes sense in terms of maintenance and physical plant management because we have consistent equipment and uniform preventative maintenance protocols then can be implemented."

Each prison has two segregation housing buildings with 64 cells in each building. Here inmates are confined to their cells 23 hours a day. Inmates are required to have one hour of exercise but they must eat in their cells. Here, one control room, with a 360-degree view, observes all 64 cells.

Each facility is designed to be expandable from its initial capacity of 1,000 inmates. "The core infrastructure was designed to expand to 1,500 inmates without any significant modification of food service or any of the support characteristics of the physical plant," said Stovall.

Plans for the Alexander facility, the last of the three to be complete, call for it to be a host site of one of North Carolina’s future regional medical and mental health facilities. The state has several regional medical facilities in its long-term plan, which calls for at least three more close-custody, 1,000-cell prisons using the same design.

The notice to proceed on prisons four and five, to be sited in Greene County and Bertie County respectively, was issued December 31, 2003. Prison six is in the planning stages.

The state anticipates that even after completing prison six, it will still have deficits in its prison capacity based upon forecasted projections.

The Compact Star Design

The design improves upon an earlier close-custody prototype known as the "foothills model."

James Kessler, AIA, senior principal at Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, the design consultant, explained some of the geometrical improvements this design made upon the foothills model.

The former model was based on smaller modules, 32-cell modules versus 48. "There is nothing wrong with the foothills design, it is just that after operating that number of facilities for that number of years, they gained confidence in the size of the pods," said Kessler, who has 25 years of experience in correctional facility design. "And we still felt that we could observe three, 48s from a single control room, just as the foothills model was observing three 32s. So right there we gained a great advantage in terms of staffing ratio."

In the foothills model the layout was such that there was a staircase in the housing pods that could not be observed from the control room. Now, the stairs are within the sallyport and can be viewed from the control room.

Other improvements include moving the recreation, gymnasium, and dining areas away from the front of the prison where visitation and administration is sited, deeper within the facility near inmate housing areas.


Bunks/Beds: Oldcastle, KLN Steel Products Co.
Cabinet Steamers: Cleveland
CCTV: Phillips; Pelco
Chopper Pumps: In-Sink-Erator
Concrete: Metromont
Correctional Furniture: Trussbilt; KLN Steel
Custom Stainless Equipment: Thompson & Little
Detention Accessories: Trussbilt; American Specialties
Exterior Finish: Metromont; Oldcastle Precast Modular Group
Floor/Wall Tile: Dal Tile
Food Services: Thompson & Little
Gypsum Wallboard: Georgia Pacific-RCI; Bonitz
HVAC: Environmental Systems; Yamas Controls-Marley; Cleaver Brooks; McQuay; Anemostat; Bell Gosset; Danfoss; Greenheck
Intercom: Rauland-Borg Corp.; STI
Ovens: Gemini
PLC: Omron
Plumbing: Eagerton Plumbing; Zurn; Metcraft; Charlotte Pipe
Pneumatic Tube Systems: Gardner Denver; Hankison
Precast Concrete Cells: Oldcastle Precast Modular Group
Refrigeration: W. A. Brown
Roofing: Johns Manville; Long Brothers Roofing; Anning Johnson
Sallyport/Doors: Maxin; EPD
Security Ceiling System: Drywall System-RCI; Bonitz
Security Cell Doors: Southern Steel; Habersham Metal Products
Security Cell Lighting: Failsafe; Kenall Lighting
Security Fencing: Safe Guards Technologies; Texas Fence
Security Fire Equipment: Fairbanks Morse; Cuter Hammer
Security Glazing: Lexgard-GE
Security Locks: ASSA; Southern Steel
Security Penal Plumbing: Willoughby
Security Screens: Allien American
Security Sprinkler Equipment: Reliable
Security Systems: ESI
Security Windows: CM Security Group; Baily
Smoke Detection Systems: Stratos; Edwards
Steam Kettles: Cleveland
Touchscreen System: ESI; Phillips
UPS: Powerware
Ventilators: Captive Aire
Walk-In Coolers/Freezers: W. A. Brown
Weapons Detection System: CEIA USA LTD

Kessler said each component was looked at in terms of what is operationally most efficient without compromising safety and security. Medical, industry, and dining were among areas reviewed to see if they are related more to visiting and the public or are they more housing related. From there, organization was constructed around what functions are more suited toward the public and what needs to be further inside the prison, in close proximity to the housing pods.

The compact site gives each pod good access to outdoor areas. You can have all of the clusters exercising together without any connection to the other. In the two segregated housing buildings, inmates exercise alone in yards arranged in a radial fashion so that one officer can observe all inmates.

Build-to-Suit Buyback

In 2001, the state of North Carolina developed legislation to allow for the unique financing employed to build these three prisons. The North Carolina statute 148-37.2 allowed the state DOC to lease-purchase three correctional facilities over a 20-year period.

During the construction period, Carolina Corrections LLC, of which Centex Rooney Construction Co. was a part, acted as the facility’s interim owner. Once construction was complete, a public, non-profit agency, the North Carolina Infrastructure Finance Corp., purchased the facilities and entered into a lease-purchase agreement with the DOC to operate and maintain the prisons over a 20-year period.

Carolina Corrections LLC is a corporation that was created specifically for the development of these three prisons. Along with Centex the corporation is comprised of Lehman Brothers, Provident Financial Group, and Ambac.

The statute states that the facility’s contractor is responsible for arranging and obtaining their own construction financing, which will consist solely of private funds. The three projects were sold to the non-profit North Carolina Infrastructure Finance Corp. using proceeds from certificates of participation.

When construction was complete and as each prison was inspected and accepted, Centex handed over the keys and the North Carolina Infrastructure Finance Corp. handed over a check.


Building three facilities off the same design not only created uniform operations and maintenance, but construction was sped up and cost savings were actualized.

The Quad

Oldcastle Precast Modular Group was responsible for the cells, plenum units, and balcony slabs in each of North Carolina’s three identical prisons in Scotland, Anson, and Alexander counties.

The company manufactured all three 1,000-cell projects in less than 11 months. Oldcastle opted to go with a quad unit instead of a double to save on production and erection time.

"Our biggest thing with the quad is it sped up production because you could produce that many more," said Project Manager Sandra Marks with Oldcastle Precast Modular Group. "Our production time was cut down."

Oldcastle was responsible for buildings J, K, and L, the general population units, and buildings M and N, which are segregated housing units.

In the general population building, cells line the first floor, the first floor mezzanine, then a plenum unit, and then the second floor, and second floor mezzanine, and then a roof plenum.

In the segregated housing area there is only a first floor and a first floor mezzanine. Each of the two segregated housing buildings has 64 cells, 32 per level.

The balconies made the mezzanine walkways. The balconies were not monolithic with the cells; they were separate. "That was a unique bolted connection," explained Marks, "it worked very well."

Oldcastle was awarded the contract to produce the same components for prisons 4 and 5, to be built in Greene and Bertie counties, respectively.

"The pricing we ultimately received showed that the lowest price and best value came with proposals that would build three facilities at one time," said Stovall.

"The three facilities were within approximately 100 miles of each other so they were within reasonable travel distance in terms of a single contractor being able to build all three."

"The real benefit [of the prototypical design] is continuity of operation and maintenance. We economize on our training, flexibility of staff movement, and minimize spare parts for equipment," said Jake Freeman, deputy director of engineering with the N.C. Department of Correction.

"It also gives us economies on the construction and design side, but it was driven by operational needs. We stressed as strongly as we could, in essence, to have the same equipment in all three of these facilities, and we are going to try to do the same thing for prisons four and five."

Others Notice

Other state correction departments are implementing similar hybrid-financing methods and developing new legislation to support construction of much needed capital projects. While other states are just watching to see how the officers and staff will receive these three new prisons.

Virginia, for example, has changed its legislation, creating the Public Private Educational Act of 2001, a very broad law enacted to save on time.

Ted Adams, senior vice president and criminal justice division manager at Centex Rooney, whose firm submitted a proposal to the Virginia Department of Corrections, said Virginia, which had the same problem getting voter support for capital construction projects, saw how well things worked for North Carolina.

"It was a great solution for North Carolina," said Adams. "And other states are noticing and changing their laws and passing legislation to allow them the latitude to do things like this."

Stovall said a number of states have expressed interest in what North Carolina is doing. In addition to Virginia, Stovall talked to officials in Florida, Louisiana, and some folks in the juvenile system in New Jersey.

The bottom line: "It has allowed for critically needed prison space to be available when we needed it to address the public safety needs of this state," emphasized Stovall.

Compressed Geometry

The North Carolina Department of Correction used a similar star housing pod in the foothills model but it was not as compact.

In this design prototype, the same number of housing pods are compressed from 180 degrees to 90 degrees, and each pod holds 48 inmates instead of 32. This setup allowed for a significant advantage in the staff-to-inmate ratio.

As design consultant, Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum (HOK) examined how to maximize sightlines. The company used a diagram that identified the biometrics of an individual sitting at a desk. They concluded six pods or two buildings with two control rooms (see diagram below) could be sited in about the same space in which the foothills model held three pods and one control room in.

"That is a major way we make the site requirements of the facility more compressed," said James Kessler, AIA, senior principal and director of the Justice Focus Group at HOK in Washington DC. "Not only does it facilitate the sightlines from inside the control room but it also reduces the amount of site area that is needed to contain the 1,000 cells."

HOK was responsible for developing this compressed geometry in order to "minimize the building’s area and circulation space inside the building’s corridors."

In looking for a prototype, particularly in a state like North Carolina, which is quite mountainous in parts, explained Kessler, it is very important that it’s done in the least amount of site area.

"It also reduces the cost and the one thing that will help on any site is to make it compact because it will mean less grading."

The vertex of the star, closest to the control room, is where the showers are located.

The orange sections show the corridors. The control rooms are red. The green areas are outdoor space that is observable from the control room.